Is your medication fixing what ails you, or causing more problems?
Published 7:00 am Saturday, September 23, 2017
By Kenneth Thomas, MD
How many medications are you taking? Do you need all of them? If there was a way to fix a medical issue without medication, would you be willing to do it? In general, we tend to want a quick fix and to move on. A medicine, whether prescription or over the counter, can fix a problem…but it can also lead to more problems. It’s a vicious cycle. You take a medicine for your high blood pressure. It causes erectile dysfunction, so then you take a medicine for that. That medicine causes headaches and lower back pain, so you add two medicines for that! See where this is going? It started with a blood pressure medication and now you’ve got to order one of those special extra-large weekly pill organizers! So, is the blood pressure pill really a ‘quick fix’ or does it cause more investment of our time and money compared to say nutrition and exercise? It might seem like more investment initially to really get to the root of the problem, but is it?
My wife’s grandmother once made a layered strawberry cake – the kind where there’s a layer of cake then a layer of whipped cream and strawberries. There were 4 layers total. Family watched in anticipation. After a few hours, the masterpiece was complete. Her grandmother ran a finger through the homemade whip cream and strawberries combo. The finger disappeared into her mouth. There was a blank stare then she calmly picked up the cake, walked out the back door, and threw it against the base of a tall oak tree! The family was speechless (and hungry). She came back inside and began pulling out ingredients to start over. When asked, she explained that she accidentally used salt instead of sugar somewhere in the process. So, here’s the thing: we are like that cake. Lifestyle-wise, we put the wrong ingredients in at times (i.e. We make choices that could be better). We then have 2 choices. We can start over with the right ingredients or we can try to doctor what’s inherently wrong or incorrect on the most basic level. My wife’s grandmother could have tried to compensate for the salt by adding more sugar or something else to balance it out but she knew the best resolution was to just backtrack and start over with the right ingredients.
Now, some of you can’t go back. You have medical conditions that can’t be reversed by lifestyle changes, BUT I challenge you to at least see if there’s a way that you can prevent progression of that disease through more appropriate daily choices. It goes back to the core – the four areas we talk about in this column: mental health, hormones, physical health, and nutrition.
Here are a few examples. Taking anxiety medication? Try decreasing caffeine intake, quit smoking, and remove stress triggers in your life. High cholesterol? Work on nutrition, increase exercise and have your hormones checked. On antidepressants? Walk outside daily, find a good friend and spend some time with them. Diabetic? Check hormones, decrease sugar intake, set an exercise goal like a Couch to 5k.
There’s one line of a Coldplay song where the lead singer says, “Are we part of the cure or are we part of the disease?” I’ve always been struck by that. Are we fixing the problem or are we making it worse? Pills look on the surface to be an easy fix to a multitude of problems. Two things, though: they have side effects (which can lead to more medications) and a lot of times they don’t actually fix the problem but rather mask the signs and symptoms. If your ‘check engine’ light came on in your car, would you stick a piece of duck tape over it to make it disappear?! Nope. You’d probably get it checked out. So, why, when the check engine light comes on in our body do we simply put a piece of duck tape over it instead of fixing the problem?
Just think about these things for me. That’s all I ask. …And next time you make a layered strawberry cake with salt accidentally, take sage advice: you’re better off starting over with the right ingredients! Our family will thank you!